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Honesty and Practical Politics

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Ahead of George Osborne's budget, Ed Miliband made a speech last week that many will have seen or read about. If in power, Ed said, Labour would be reintroducing the 10p tax rate while at the same introducing a mansion tax for properties over £2million.

'Would these measures be in the 2015 manifesto', asked the hacks? And if it wasn't, was Labour really saying anything significant about the kind of policies they would instigate if in power? Clearly, the aftermath of that speech revealed some of the problems of attempting to be what people are increasingly asking politicians to be - honest !

Labour's response was a frank one: you can't write a budget some two years away from an election. After all, who knows what fresh horror the coalition will have created in that time? But that patently obvious response did little to still the derision.

So just how honest do we want our politicians to be?

Some of us lay awake at night worrying about how a future Labour government will meet the high expectations that would greet it. Given that the word 'betrayal' is never that far away from the lips of many a left-wing activist, how do we maintain the sense of excitement about what a Labour government would do alongside the necessary realism about what in practice can be done? How can Labour possibly state, therefore, at this point in time what they will and will not be able to do.

And here the current practice of Labour councils becomes crucial. Bearing the brunt of government cuts cynically passed onto local authorities, (whilst simultaneously trying to dictate to local authorities should they dare to stray), they are falling back on the practical principle of priorities. What are Labour priorities? In Oxford, it's clear - protecting the most vulnerable through not passing on cuts to council tax benefit relief; being committed to paying the living wage; building more affordable housing.

This might not sound like the manifesto for a socialist utopia, and doubtless such policies won't still the voices of those who think councillors should either refuse to set budgets or should strike. (And just how responsible would that be? Who would protect the vulnerable from central government then?) But commitment to the things that make us Labour shows what can be done, even in such difficult times as these.

And perhaps that's it. Being honest about the limits that face us but having a clear set of priorities shaping our actions allows for a more honest, more human and more humane politics to be shaped. We can be both practical and principled, and in that way we can model a different kind of politics that will form the bedrock of the kind of government that we all hope for - one that sets different priorities for a fairer society.

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